For Disclaimers see Ch. 1
Author's Note: A few weeks ago, when I posted Ch 18, I thought there was only a bit more to go; 20-30 pages tops. But everyone in this story had other ideas. And Kylie's family can be quite adamant about what they want. I eventually gave in if for another reason than to get them off my back. So, to help break up this suddenly rather large chunk of story, I am posting another piece of it. Enjoy!!!!
As always, read, review and enjoy.
* * *
Luce came to suddenly, taking a deep breath that turned violently into a rough, hacking cough. She tried to take another breath only to find herself coughing even harder. It took a second or two before she realized the room was filling with smoke, the acrid burning of it filling her lungs. She opened her eyes, sitting up as the heat of a raging fire hit her like a brick.
She coughed again, kneeling on the floor, trying to keep herself low against the ground. Everywhere she looked there was either a raging fire or a wall of smoke. She had no idea where the door was. Or more importantly, where Kylie was.
“Kylie!” She managed a shout despite the coughing and felt her heart clench when there was no answer. She started crawling as quickly as she could, her arms outstretched, searching. Thankfully, she didn't have far to go, her searching hands meeting skin in the hazy gloom of the smoke filled house.
She closed her hands around Kylie's leg, the first thing she had grabbed, giving a silent thank you that Kylie was still close. She stood, hacking roughly as she realized Kylie was on the sofa, her still form draped awkwardly over it. Luce grabbed her and shook her roughly but the smaller woman didn't respond.
Luce used the piece of furniture to orient her sense of direction in the hazy room and looked over at the front door. There was a wall of flames slowly growing around it and she knew they weren't getting out that way.
She turned her attention to the big picture window at the front of the house, hoping it too wasn't blocked. She gave a sob of relief when she saw it was clear and open.
She stepped over to it and noticed for the first time it wasn't a window that opened. She stood there for a split second, a wave of annoyance and despair washing over her, dizziness fast on its heels. She felt her vision graying a bit around the edges and knew she was running out of time. She had to get them both out of there, fast.
She turned, spying the heavy coffee table behind her and before she thought too long about it, she surged to it, grabbing it and swinging it over her head before slamming it through the window to land outside in a smoking heap.
A wave of cool fresh air surged into the house and Luce felt the fire leaping up behind them as a new source of oxygen poured into the room. She stood there for a second or two, taking a couple of deep cleansing breaths before turning around to scoop Kylie's still form up into her arms. With a quiet prayer, she lept through the window with Kylie clutched to her chest.
She tried to land on her feet. But dizzy from the smoke and off balance with Kylie in her arms, her landing was less than graceful; more like a crumpling piling heap on the lawn. She lay there for several seconds, taking great heaving breaths of fresh air and letting her vision clear a bit. As she began untangling herself from Kylie, she heard the neighbors running up to them looking to help, talking excitedly.
“Did someone call 911?” She managed to get out as she carried Kylie further away from the burning house.
One of the neighbors stepped forward. “They're on their way.”
Luce nodded absently, laying Kylie out flat and checking her over quickly. She felt her heart stop when she realized Kylie wasn't breathing.
“Dammit.” She breathed and looked out into the crowd. “Does anyone else know CPR?” She was aware her voice was pinched but calm, cool even. She felt a distant sense of pride at keeping the panic at bay.
A young man stepped forward to help as she began giving rescue breaths to the young woman. They fell into an easy rhythm with her breathing for Kylie and him doing compressions. But as the seconds ticked by, Luce listened to the young man counting quietly to himself and a wave of desperation washed over her.
Kylie wasn't responding.
She gave a savage breath, staring intently at the smaller woman for some sign that their efforts were working. “Dammit, Kylie, start breathing!”
Her elfin face was so still, so pale. Not a twitch of an eyelid, nothing.
Getting angry now, Luce gave another breath and started barking at the other woman. “God dammit, breath, Kylie.”
They went through another repetition and still nothing. Luce felt her anger turning into rage and panic. She could hear sirens in the distance, moving closer, their strident, piercing noise filling the air around them. But they seemed too far away, coming too slowly as Kylie lay still and unconscious and not breathing before her.
She was fading, her spirit slipping away. Luce could feel it. With every beat of her own heart, Luce felt Kylie's soul slip further and further into the abyss. And with each second that passed, the vise around her chest tightened even more.
She wanted to scream, to rant and rave against the world. To scream in death's face and make him back down. But she could barely breathe. And her voice came out in a harsh hiss that was quickly and easily choked off by the tightening in her chest.
She sat there, with Kylie's neighbors around her, too numb to cry, to broken to move for a moment when one of them reached out to touch her shoulder gently. That soft touch jolted something awake in her and Luce surged to her knees, hovering over Kylie, willing the other woman to move, to fight, to live.
More hands joined the first one, touching her gently, offering their sympathy and their grief. But it only angered her; their gentle murmurs inflaming her will even more.
She grabbed Kylie's shirt in her hands, roughly shaking the shorter woman, directing all her rage and her grief and her fear at the still form on the ground. She shook her sharply, once, twice, all the while hissing into Kylie's pale face.
“Don't you leave me here, Kylie Rogers. Don't you leave me here alone. I can't do this on my own; I'm not strong enough without you!” Tears fell unnoticed onto Kylie's upturned face. “You've never been afraid of single thing in your life, never walked away from a damn thing, don't you dare walk away from me now!”
She shoved the young man who'd been helping her with CPR out of the way, taking his place, doing the compressions, her movements savage and desperate. Her soft counting letting her ignore the quiet weeping around her as the neighborhood looked on.
Two breaths and another fierce shake. “It's not supposed to be like this; not like this. We're supposed to grow old together. We're supposed to be those two old biddies in the nursing home who yell at each other and threaten to whop each other with our canes. And when we die, we're supposed to go together so neither one of us has to be alone.” Her lip quivered slightly at that fierce admission, the tears in her eyes dripped down her cheeks as she kept trying to bring her back.
That gentle touch on her arm again, but she jerked away. The sirens were very close now, hurting her ears, vibrating through her chest. But Luce only had eyes for Kylie's pale face. “No, don't you do this to me Kylie, don't you even think about it. I can't live without you!” With that fierce statement, she hit Kylie in the chest, feeling a sob building in her throat, bubbling up past her lips and shattering her control.
Her fist struck Kylie's flesh and she felt something, almost a spark and with a muted flash, she was somewhere else. A place unknown and yet somehow eerily familiar to her ravaged heart. A place of stone and shadows lit by flickering torchlight and filled with the sounds of harsh sobbing and angered desperate words.
She was someone else there, someone darker, stronger and filled with rage and hate and violence and at that moment the same savage grief. She looked down in shock to see she was cradling someone close to her heart; a small familiar form that she knew was Kylie and yet, was not Kylie. And her large hand was pressed firmly to the other woman's chest as if she'd just struck it.
Then in a blink, her hand had lifted and she was on the lawn once more, Kylie lying still on the ground in front of her. Then her hand descended again making contact and she was in the place of stone and grief once more.
This time there were tortured thoughts from the flesh she wore. I'll come for her! If you don't let her go, I'll come for her and make you give her back!
Another flash and she too was finishing her own tortured thoughts on Kylie's lawn. She's not yours, give her back or so help me I'll follow her and make you sorry you took her from me. I'll make you let her go!
This time when her fist made contact with Kylie's chest she watched in amazement as Kylie's eyes shot open and she drew a sudden gasping breath.
Dumbfounded Luce gaped at her for several seconds before wrapping her arms around the smaller woman pulling her close before bursting into tears once more, this time in sheer joy.
Kylie coughed several times, looking at Luce in confusion as she tried to restart her fuzzy mind. She reached up to touch Luce's face, a slight smile on her face. “Hey.” A poetic response of mythic proportions.
Luce laughed slightly blinking away the tears, refusing to let the other woman go even to simply wipe them away. “Hey, yourself. I thought I'd lost you there.”
Kylie's eyes closed slowly as she exhaled. “For a minute there, you did.”
Feeling fresh tears filling her eyes, Luce drew her close, holding her tightly suddenly terrified to let go. “Don't go doing that again just yet, ok?”
Kylie shook her head slowly. “Not anytime soon; so no more jumping on my chest. I think you broke something.”
Luce felt a touch of hysterical laughter hit her and she sat there holding onto Kylie fighting the urge to giggle as the paramedics rushed up. One of them touched her shoulder gently before even attempting to take Kylie from her. “Ma'am, we need to take her now. Let us have her.”
Reluctantly Luce let Kylie go so the paramedics could do their job. But it was hard and she didn't take her eyes off of her lover for even a moment.
One of the paramedics started talking to her, trying to assess her injuries and state of mind. “Ma'am, did you perform CPR?”
She nodded dumbly feeling her chest tighten all over again.
The EMT began taking her vitals. “You saved her life you know.”
Again that dumb nod. This time followed by the sting of tears. Her chest was too tight, she couldn't breath. She needed Kylie back, needed to be sure she would be ok.
She panicked completely when they moved to load Kylie into the ambulance. “Wait, no don't take her.”
The paramedic who was assessing her touched her arm gently holding her in place. “We need to take her to the hospital; she's been hurt.”
But Luce wouldn't be denied. “I want to go with her.”
The EMT tried to be firm. “Ma'am, let me look at you first. We can follow her to the hospital.” It didn't go as well as he expected.
She fended him off easily, shaking him loose before she grabbed him by the shirt and dragged him off balance, their noses practically touching as she hissed in his face. “Listen buddy, I've had a night you can't even imagine; I just fought off a hitman, said no to drug lord when he offered me a job, got tasered and woke up to find myself in a burning house all before being forced to perform CPR on my dying girlfriend. After all that, tying you up into a pretzel should be small potatoes. Or do you still enjoy breathing out of your nose?”
The other paramedic paused. “Yeah?”
The EMT in Luce's grip swallowed visibly at the fevered look in his patient's eyes. “She wants to ride with her.”
She gave his cheek a soft pat. “Good choice.” Luce let him go as she stood and headed towards the ambulance and Kylie's gurney.
* * *
They were both loaded up into the ambulance and rushed to the hospital. Luce sat as close to Kylie as the cramped quarters would allow; simply holding her hand and giving a slight shiver now and then. So grateful to feel her on the other side of her, alive and mostly well. Whenever her mind tried to think further than that, it shied like a skittish race horse. And she wasn't about to press her luck on that one.
The ride to hospital was relatively short but once there, they whisked Kylie off and left Luce with her own bevy of doctors and nurses. It was all Luce could do not to have a panic attack at the forced separation.
She knew she was being stupid, that nothing could happen to Kylie while in the care of the ER staff. But she'd nearly lost her tonight; she had a very good right to be suspicious and untrusting of anyone that came near her lover at this point.
But, she also knew she was hurt and she wouldn't do either of them any good if she collapsed when Kylie really needed her later.
So she sat and she let them poke and prod until she felt like a side of beef up for auction. Then it was over. Miraculously, she was barely injured. A few minor burns, one cut that required a few stitches and a huge bruise she hadn't the faintest idea where it came from. There wasn't even a mark from the taser that she could see.
The doctors seemed amazed she'd come through the incident so well; to be honest, so was she.
The moment they let her be, promising to come back with her discharge papers, she went off in search of Kylie. She found the other woman in a curtained off area by herself for the moment, looking very pale and her face drawn from the pain.
For a moment, Luce felt her heart stop beating as she flashed back to the sidewalk and Kylie's deathly still form.
Then, her eyelids fluttered a bit and Luce found herself lost in those jade orbs all over again. She smiled slightly as she came up to Kylie's bed.
Kylie smiled back, reaching out with the one hand free of tubes to grab at her. “Hey there, gorgeous. Can I buy you a drink?”
That made Luce laugh, “Isn't that my line?”
Kylie smiled wanly.
Luce rubbed their joined hands terrified of letting her go, even for a moment. “How you doing?”
Kylie shrugged. “Sore, mostly. The doctors think I twisted my knee or something so they want to take me for some x-rays I think. I don't know for sure; I was kind of zoning out for a bit there.” Her eyes drifted shut again. Her eyelids felt as if they weighed a ton.
Luce felt the sting of tears touch her eyes and she took a deep breath before reaching out to snag a chair and bring it closer. “I'm not surprised. You look like you were in a house fire or something tonight.”
That made Kylie snort softly. And she started to giggle. “This is no way funny, honey.”
Luce shrugged. “True, but you still laughed. Helps, don't it?”
Kylie nodded, sniffling a bit as the severity of the situation cut through the laughter “Oh, Luce!”
Luce swallowed her own tears knowing Kylie needed her to be strong for both of them right now. She hugged Kylie as much as she could from the side of the bed, holding her close to her heart, giving her her strength and her shoulder to cry on.
“Hey, none of that. We're alive and we're not hurt, much We'll deal with everything else as it comes, together. OK?”
Kylie nodded against Luce's chest, still crying softly. After a moment the tears slowed and she pulled back sniffling loudly. Luce had just gotten her a tissue when the doctor walked in.
If he was surprised to see Luce in there holding a tissue for her, he didn't show it. The consummate professional, he walked up to Kylie's bedside not even batting an eye at the sudden appearance of her disheveled visitor or their joined hands.
Luce gave him bonus points for both.
“You, are one very lucky young woman, Ms. Kylie Rogers.” He said in a somewhat stern voice. “None of your injuries appear to be that serious. Most people caught in a house fire don't come out of it with only a bump and a twisted knee. And I'm astounded you didn't end up with more burns than you did.”
Kylie squeezed Luce's hand tighter and gave a small smile. “I had my guardian angel with me, I guess.”
The doctor chuckled. “Be that as it may, I think it's a good idea to keep you for a few days of observation despite the minor injuries. You did stop breathing after all and I want to be pretty sure you don't end up doing that again anytime in the near future.”
“You and me both, doctor.” Luce said and Kylie blushed a bit.
“You both sound like I had any choice in the matter.” She muttered.
“The EMTs tell me someone performed CPR on you and brought you back to us.”
Luce spoke up from her chair. “It was me.” Her voice was strained at the mention of that harrowing few minutes where she wasn't sure Kylie was going to pull through or not.
The doctor nodded at her. “Great skill to pick up; wish more people would take the initiative. It definitely helps more times than it hinders.” He stepped closer to Kylie, and began taking her vitals again. “I'm sure you'll be very sore for the next few days and laying around in a bed isn't going to help a great deal with that. But we can give you something for that if gets to be too much.”
She nodded as he listened to her chest.
A second later, a nurse appeared at the curtain, poking her head in. When her eyes met Luce, she gave a soft sigh. “There you are! I've been looking everywhere for you.”
Luce arched a dark brow silently.
The nurse ignored the wry look. She handed Luce some paperwork. “Here are your discharge papers. The doctor wants you to take it easy for the next few days. And come back immediately if you start coughing or feel short of breath.” She gave Luce a very stern look.
Kylie chuckled as she watched as the normally domineering woman caved under that fierce gaze. “Don't worry, she will.” And she gave the hand she was holding a soft squeeze to take the sting out of her words.
Luce gave her a knowing look, a strange smile coming over her face. “Doctor, will she be down here in the ER much longer?”
The doctor finished listening to her chest and made some final notations on her chart, shaking her head. “No, we'll be moving her up stairs to a private room as soon as I can get her admitted.”
The smile grew. “I need to borrow a phone. I have to call a few family members; let them know we're alright, that kind of thing.”
Kylie's face went pale at the sudden realization that her sister was probably at the top of Luce's damn list. She groaned. “Dammit, Mollie is never going to let me live this down.”
Despite herself, Luce laughed herself silly over that.
* * *
Luce sat in the small room the nurse had led her too after she requested a phone just staring at the damn thing sitting in front of her. Despite laughing at Kylie's rather dramatic reaction to calling her sister, Luce really didn't want to have to call Mollie. Not like this. The woman was likely to shoot the messenger in this case.
That made Luce pause. This time, she might have the right.
Luce shook her head slightly and pushed the guilty feelings away. They weren't helpful right now; not when Kylie needed her. She could deal with them later. If there was a later after talking to Mollie.
Shoving everything aside, she grimly picked up the phone and dialed Mollie's number and was surprised to hear her mother's familiar and comforting tone come over the other end of the line. She felt a huge wave of relief wash over her.
“ Ina .” Tears filled her eyes slightly and her tone was almost like a young child woken in the middle of night from a nightmare, unsure and frightened.
Her mother sensed immediately something was wrong. “Luce, is something wrong?”
Luce nodded, taking a moment to catch ahold of herself before she frightened her mother near to death. “Kylie and I are fine, but there's been an accident. Her house was set on fire tonight and we're in the hospital. They're discharging me but want to keep her for a few days for observation.”
“Her house was set on fire?” Grace's surprised and somewhat shrill tone drilled into her ear.
“Yes, but we're both fine, honest. Can you come down here, please?” Luce very badly needed a hug from her mother suddenly.
Her mother snorted softly. “Of course we can. How silly of you to ask, lighteyes. Just give us a few moments and Mollie and I will be on our way. She will gather the rest of Kylie's family and we will all be there shortly.”
Luce nodded again, the relief returning even as a small part of her was terrified at the idea of clan Rogers descending upon the hospital.
Her mother's voice came over the phone, soft and gentle almost as if she could see her child's uncertain face. “Are you alright, my bright one?”
The soft words were Luce's undoing and she felt new tears filling her eyes as she whispered in an anguished tone. “I almost lost her, Ina .”
Her mother clucked softly. “But you did not, lighteyes.” She gave a soft sigh “I had always hoped you would be spared this; that would never have to go through the pain I did when I lost your father so suddenly.”
Luce realized in that moment just how hard her mother's life had been since her father's death and she found it gave her a new respect for the smaller woman's strength. She had a core of steel and a will to match.
“How did you survive losing daddy?” She asked softly, her mind drawn back to that awful day so many years ago.
Her mother shrugged. “Some days I am not sure I really did. But you were so young and you needed me. And after a while that was enough to give me the strength to face my world without him. I am so glad you did not have to find that same strength within yourself tonight.”
The dam broke inside Luce and she sat in that quiet room, tears sliding silently down her cheeks as she clenched the phone in her hand with a white knuckled grip. “ Ina , will you hurry?”
Her mother swallowed audibly. “Yes, lighteyes, I will hurry.”
* * *
Luce went back to Kylie's bedside after making the phone calls and practically glued her butt to the chair, not wanting to let the other woman out of her sight for a moment. To their credit, the hospital staff didn't even bat an eye at it and even seemed to accept it in stride as they got Kylie ready to be moved upstairs.
They got Kylie settled into her room relatively quickly. But by the time they did, the adrenalin rush from her ordeal was starting to wear off and she ached everywhere. The doctor was kind enough to give her something for the pain but she was so exhausted and drawn out from everything that had happened, it ended up knocking her out.
So she wasn't awake when Hurricane Mollie came storming into the room followed by Grace while the rest of the clan waited in the lobby.
Mollie took one at Kylie lying banged up in the hospital bed and she gave a sharp cry.
Luce rushed into the fray before Mollie had little chance to do more than draw a breath. She grabbed Mollie by the shoulders and drew her away from the sleeping woman. “Mollie, look at me, she's fine. I swear to you, she's fine. She just needs some rest and TLC.”
The panicked look in the older woman's eyes receded slowly as her eyes bored into Luce's own. “She's fine?” The question came out soft and uncertain.
Luce nodded. “She's banged up a bit but other than that, yes, she's fine. They just want to keep her for observation just in case.”
Mollie reached out and snagged Luce into a hug, holding onto to the taller woman with a fierce desperation Luce had never felt before; not even on the first day they met when Kylie was getting stitched up.
“Thank God you were with her, Luce.” The whispered words were soft and heartfelt.
They should have made her feel better but they only made her feel worse. Luce closed her eyes feeling a wave of guilt wash over her at them. She pulled back from Mollie.
“Mollie...” she began but the other woman ignored her, walking past her to pull up a chair on the other side of the bed and sinking into it.
Crisis averted for the moment, Luce turned to her mother and found herself suddenly enveloped in her mother's arms as Grace grabbed her taller child and pulled her close. Luce noticed the tears in her eyes and wrapped her arms tightly around the shorter woman.
“I'm alright, Ina. ” She said softly.
Her mother nodded dumbly, unable to speak past the choking fear that had enveloped her the moment she'd heard Luce's voice on the phone. This was nothing like the day she'd lost Adam but it struck too close to home for comfort. And neither of them could help but be dragged back to the memories of that terrible day when so much of their lives had shattered around them.
After a moment, she pulled back and gave her child an appraising look that seemed to be part of the skill set of mothers everywhere. Taking in the bruises, the abrasions and sunken eyes with a single glance she gave a soft cluck of her tongue. “You are dead on your feet, Luce. Sit down before you fall down.” She practically shoved Luce into the chair she had been in a moment ago. Luce took the hint, not fighting her and sank into it with a soft sigh.
Grace pulled up her own chair, right next to Luce and latched onto her hand.
Mollie gave them both a moment before interrupting. “Are you alright?” She directed at Luce from across the bed.
Luce nodded after a second knowing there was more to question than her physical well being. “I'm a bit shaken.” She murmured after a moment.
“That's to be expected, I'm sure. It's not every day you manage to wake up and escape a house fire.”
Luce stared at Kylie's peaceful face and shook her head, feeling the night start crashing down around her. And she felt the reality of it really hit home for the first time since she woke to find the cartel boss in Kylie's house.
“It wasn't just a house fire, Mollie.” She shook her head, feeling tears in her eyes again. “This is my fault. I'm the reason she's laying in this damn bed.” She stopped for a moment, searching for the words to go on.
Mollie, as if sensing there was something more to be said, merely waited for Luce to go on. So Luce told them, in short, shaky, bleak statements, just how Kylie had ended up banged up in the hospital bed. She left out the conversation between her and the South American drug lord, saying simply that the hit on her had not been canceled and that Kylie had been caught up in her problems from work. She also kept the truth of Jace's identity to herself. She figured they would have enough problems sleeping that night without adding those tidbits to the drama.
Telling it, even so simple a version, left her raw and shaking, eyes full of tears once more. She hadn't expected that.
When she was finished, she braced herself for the tirade that she expected would follow. But Mollie merely handed her a tissue to blow her nose. When Luce had done that, Mollie reached across the bed and took the other woman's hand giving it a firm squeeze until Luce looked up and met her eyes. Luce was amazed to see the Mollie wasn't furious with her.
“Luce, I need you to listen very careful to what I'm about to tell you and promise me you won't interrupt until I'm finished. This isn't your fault, you had no way of knowing this would happen.”
Luce shook her head almost violently, completely ignoring Mollie's request. “I should have protected her better. I should have told her to go away for awhile. I should have done something.”
“What good would that have done? We both know how stubborn she is, do you really think she would have listened to you?” That made Luce pause and Mollie went on. “Let me tell you something I've never admitted to anyone out loud, not even Keith. It's my fault Kylie was in the car with my parents they day they died.”
That got Luce's full attention.
Mollie took a deep breath and pressed on. “OK, so maybe that's a bit melodramatic, it's not directly my fault she was hurt but there's not a day that goes by that I don't feel responsible. Because I'm her sister and I should have protected her. Because I didn't do the job I promised to do the day she was born and I let her down.”
Mollie took a deep breath and went on. “The truth is, she wasn't supposed to be riding with them that day, she was supposed to be with me. But I was being a bit bitchy about having to take my little sister to her recital so I volunteered to work an extra shift and told my parents I couldn't get out of it. She wasn't supposed to be with mom and dad and it tore me up inside to know that my selfishness caused her to be hurt, nearly killed.
“A big part of me has never really completely gotten over it. I don't know if I ever will. But I'm trying because in the end it doesn't really matter who's fault it was, all that really matters is that she's still here. She's still alive and this time she has you to thank for that.”
Mollie could tell Luce wasn't completely convinced and pushed on. “She's going to be fine Luce; she's a fighter, our Kylie. She wouldn't have made it this far otherwise.” She patted Luce's hand, letting it go a moment later.
Molly's soft spoken words proved to be her breaking point and Luce felt the tears begin to fall. They were both right; hadn't she said as much to both of them when they walked through the door? They were both fine, banged up a bit, battered, bruised. But the night could have ended so much worse; for either of them; for both of them. They could have been seriously hurt. They could have ended up in the morgue.
But none of that had happened. They were both alive; in the end wasn't that all that really mattered?
Luce swallowed, wiping away the tears on her face, feeling the sense of guilt and anguish over the near miss begin to fade. It was still there, like the background pain of a tooth ache really. And in all likelihood, it would be there for a long time to come. But this kind of pain she could deal with. And who knew what kind of dulling time would bring.
She felt Kylie shift slightly and looked at her. She was surprised to see the other woman awake.
Green eyes fogged with a combination of drugs, fatigue and pain looked at her with growing concern. “Hey you guys are making it awfully hard to sleep here.” She gave Luce's hand a firm squeeze.
“Hey Ky, how you feeling?” Mollie reached over to help Kylie get more comfortable.
“Like half a burning building fell on me. Can I get something to drink, I'm kind of dry.” Kylie touched her throat, her voice soft and a bit hoarse.
Mollie patted her arm. “Sure, let me see what we can scare up.” She stood up and went to the door.
Grace reached out and gave her daughter a soft kiss on the cheek. “I shall give you girls a few moments.” And she too slipped out of the room, leaving the two of them alone.
Luce lifted Kylie's hand, touching her lips to it softly, her blue eyes burning vividly as she looked at the other woman. “Sorry we disturbed you.”
She shrugged slightly, the movement slow and stiff. “Doesn't really matter. I don't have my body pillow next to me; not sure I'm going to get much sleep anyway.” She gave Luce a sly look which for some reason made the taller woman blush. Kylie shifted again trying to get comfortable. “But at least Mollie can't yell at me until I come off the drugs.”
That made Luce laugh. “Yeah, I was worried when she first came in; that kind of intensity can't be good for the baby.”
The smaller woman giggled. “Since she's not screaming the walls down, I'd say you handled it rather well.”
Luce shrugged, her face serious. “It was touch and go there for a second. Not sure if I can handle your family en masse though. We might want to sneak out the window or something. Do you think if I tied the sheets together, you could manage to shimmy out the window?”
Kylie's sudden bark of laughter was music to Luce's ears. And to think, she'd almost lost the chance to ever hear it again. And just like that she was sucked back to that terrible moment on the sidewalk, pounding on Kylie's chest, trying to get her to breath. It was like a pail of cold water, killing her laughter and darkening her mood. And what seemed like the millionth time that night, she was on the verge of tears again.
Kylie, sensing the sudden change, gave her hand another squeeze, drawing her back and away from the painful memory. She gave Luce's hand a tug. “Sweetheart, you look like you're about to drop. Why don't you crawl up here with me and lay down for a bit. It's been a long night for both of us, I think.”
The taller woman shook her head, terrified to lay down. Knowing that the moment she did, the moment she let her guard down to sleep, the memory would be there. In vivid technicolor. Ambushing her all over again. Driving her stark raving mad if she let it.
She gave Kylie a small smile. “I'm fine, just a bit shaky is all.”
Kylie wasn't fooled. “Luce, don't make me beg.” She gave Luce's hand another tug, harder this time.
Still Luce resisted. “Honey, you're hurt.” She played the final card with a sigh knowing she really had no hope of winning this argument. And she was right.
“Get in the damn bed, woman!” Kylie gave one final tug on the hand and all but barked at her.
Luce found herself relenting without even realizing she was going to, crawling up onto the bed, shuffling Kylie around until somehow, they both fit.
It took some doing, but they somehow managed. And when they were finally settled, she on her back with Kylie draped over her, the shorter woman's knee carefully braced against Luce's thigh, she had to admit it felt wonderful. And she felt her body relax for the first time that night.
Luce gave a soft sigh, and felt her eyes slowly close, her mind drifting towards much needed sleep. But a soft spoken question from Kylie brought her awake in an instant.
“Are you alright?”
Luce tensed at the question, reading the depth behind it. She didn't really want to answer it because she knew that Kylie would be in no way satisfied with the simple answer she'd given Mollie earlier. She would have to tell her the truth, the whole truth. Because Kylie knew her far too well to be satisfied with anything less.
There was a long silent pause from the bed as Kylie waited. She could be patient, being a part of her rather cantankerous family had taught her well on dealing with rather obstinate and difficult personalities. And there were few personalities that she'd ever encountered that were more willful and difficult at times than the woman she was currently draped across.
And Luce herself had taught her a thing or to as well; mainly on the value of silence as well.
If you feel the urge to fill the silence, don't. The other woman had once told her when she'd asked how she managed to get people to admit things to her they'd never even admit out loud . Because sometimes, silence has a way of breaking people down faster than shouting ever could.
Kylie had listened and wondered if she'd ever need to use it. Or if she did, would it work. But she didn't have long to wonder.
It worked like a charm. Even on her rather willful lover.
Luce twitched slightly before giving a loud, exasperated sigh. "I should know better than to try this with you."
Despite the pain in her throat, Kylie chuckled. "Yes, you should." She waited, knowing this was a place that Luce had to reach on her own, without being pushed.
"I felt you die." Her voice was quiet, full of pain, almost ragged with it. Her lip quivered slightly and tears filled her eyes.
Kylie felt her own eyes fill with tears. Seeing a person who was normally so stoic, so strong being torn apart like this was almost more than she could bear. And it nearly broke her heart.
Luce felt herself go numb as the memory of earlier night washed over her. "I could feel it, like you were slipping away to somewhere I couldn't go." The memory darkened, threatening to swallow her whole once more.
She felt Kylie reach out and take her hand, driving the darkness back. She latched onto that life line, suddenly unsure if she could go on. "I..." She stopped, swallowed and tried again. But the words wouldn't come.
Kylie wrapped her arms tighter around Luce, giving her a buffer for the memories. "I heard you, heard your voice whispering in the dark. What did you say?"
Luce swallowed, taking a deep breath. "I yelled at you, I think I even slapped you. I was just trying to..." she broke off again. Swallowing again, tears pooling in her eyes. "I threatened to come after you."
Kylie's brows shot up in astonishment and she sat up to look Luce in astonishment.
Luce met her gaze without flinching. "I didn't want to be here without you."
Luce cut her off with a vehement shake of her head her voice low and rough. "No, don't make me take it back. I meant what I said."
For long moments, jade eyes met blue, measuring, weighing, searching, wondering. Then, Kylie simply nodded in understanding, accepting the truth in those words. How could she do anything else when they were merely an echo of the same thoughts she'd had herself when she thought they would both be killed?
At her nod, Luce felt some tense part of herself simply and suddenly unravel. Then Kylie laid her head back down on her chest, rubbing her hand across Luce's stomach in random patterns and swirls that were strangely soothing; surprisingly so. There was such tenderness in her touch, such love. Luce felt herself drifting again.
"There's really only one thing left to do then." Kylie said softly, her hand never wavering or even slowing as her eyes looked off into the room, distant and unfocused.
Luce grunted softly not sure of her ability to speak. Not trusting that the words she needed would come to her.
"Luce, will you marry me?" Kylie's hand stilled in its motion as she said the words, Looking up to stare directly at Luce.
Luce's would have shot straight off the bed if it hadn't been for Kylie laying on her. Her blue eyes widened in surprise, like a deer suddenly caught in the headlights. She sat there a moment, gaping at Kylie, barely breathing, suddenly so afraid this was all just a dream. And she was going to jerk awake and find herself on the sidewalk in front of Kylie's house again, trying desperately to get her to start breathing.
But the dream didn't fade. Kylie's impish face stayed as battered and bruised as she knew it was; her green eyes boring right into Luce's soul.
“We never really got around to talking about that one.” Her soft voice having only the slightest of wavers.
Kylie smiled, knowing that she'd caught the taller woman completely by surprise; both of them, truth be told. But she wasn't about to take back what she'd said. “No, we didn't. But here we are.”
Luce smiled at the wistful tone. “Is this because of...” she let the words trail off, waving vaguely in the air at the hospital room and the bed they were currently sharing. She didn't want there to be any regrets, any uncertainties, any sudden changes of heart. She didn't want Kylie to feel that she'd ever been pushed into anything.
Kylie shrugged. “In part. I don't need what happened to us tonight to tell me I loved you. Or to tell me that you loved me. I only have to look at you to see the truth of both our hearts.” She reached out and touched Luce's face gently. “The only thing tonight has shown me is that life is so very short. And I don't ever want to face dying with a single regret in my heart. I want to know that I took every chance I was given to be happy. And marrying you, would make me very, very happy.”
Luce smiled then, a radiant smile that lit her face like a beacon. “I want that too.” She gave Kylie a soft, kiss, mindful of the bruises. “Yes, I'll marry you.”
This time, Kylie smiled and it was such a beautiful sight despite the bruising. “Good, then it's settled. You'll go out and buy me a ring and I'll start telling my family.” She laid her head back on Luce's chest.
Luce nearly choked remembering well the last time they'd let her family in on some good news. “Your family? Can't we just elope?”
Kylie chuckled gravely “Not a chance, tiger. Your future sister-in-law would hunt us both down and make our lives a living hell. On a brighter note, she'll be more than happy to plan the wedding for us.”
Luce pondered that. “Now that has possibilities.”
Kylie's head lifted, her eyes suddenly earnest. “You do realize that once we get married, you become a part of my family, right? You'll have an Uncle Tom and an Aunt Steve. And Keith and Connor and Peter and all the hooligans will be able to call you Auntie Luce.”
Luce winced. “Trying to scare me away already? We haven't even made it to the altar yet.”
Kylie laughed out loud. “Just letting you know what you're getting into in case you want to change your mind.”
She sobered, her gaze unwavering as she shook her head. “I'll never change my mind.” Then an impish light lit her eyes as she snorted. “Besides, I can always threaten to send you after them if they get out of hand.”
Kylie laughed. “You are a fast learner.”
She smiled. “I had the best teacher.” Then she gave Kylie's head a gentle push urging her to lay back down, kissing her gently on the forehead before closing her eyes and letting herself drift.
Kylie was right, she was exhausted. But she was afraid to sleep. She snorted a bit to herself; no, she was almost terrified. She didn't need dreams of their harrowing night haunting her; she was pretty damn sure it would take her a very long time to get over seeing Kylie lying so quiet on the lawn. There was really no need for her brain to torment her when she couldn't even defend herself.
Kylie, as if sensing her distress, tightened her arms about her. “Go to sleep, Luce. No dreams tonight.”
Those quietly spoken words sank into her mind and took hold. Without thinking, she relaxed and felt herself drifting down into sleep almost immediately. For the first time all night, the memories stayed quiet. And with a sigh, she gave in and fell asleep.
* * *
To be continued...
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